By Mia Casey
While internships are essential, landing one can be difficult, particularly if you’ve never approached the task before. Luckily, there are ways you can easily overcome these difficulties. Career Consultant, Helena Asher-Chiang, gave us some advice on how simple it can be to carve a place for yourself in the industry, and what you can do to discover new opportunities.
You’ve got to be proactive
While finding a job or internship through your network can work really well, that doesn’t mean you can just sit around waiting for a position to appear before you.
Read more: The Intern Diaries: Max Grieve
When Helena heard that a new Myer store was opening in Bondi and needed HR staff to work both in-store and in the back office, she took a chance and approached them.
“I was like HEY! Do you think I could transfer? I had to convince them why it would be beneficial for me to transfer stores. I said look, I already know the store, the products, I know what MYER is all about and I know the company values.”
Being familiar with the company, their values, and her own skills she could bring to the table, she was able to convince her employer to give her a chance, resulting in a new work opportunity.
“Essentially, they created a role for me that gave me exposure to working in an office. I’d never worked in an office before. New HR administrative procedures had to be put into place; new staff would be starting, so I got exposure to administrative work, training new employees OH&S, workplace safety.”
By being proactive and knowing her own value, Helena was able to forge her own path into HR despite her lack of experience.
“If I hadn’t fought hard for the role, I would never have gotten that opportunity. You can’t just sift through CareerHub, waiting for something to pop up. You have to create your own opportunities by approaching the right people and showing how you can add value”.
Leverage your value: know what your skills are, and have a clear understanding of what you can do for the company you wish to work with. This means researching the organisation, consolidating your own skills, and utilising your network to create new opportunities for yourself.
Networking really is essential
When you’re out looking for an internship, it can be helpful to look beyond your immediate circle of contacts. As Helena notes:
“Have conversations with as many people as possible. Tell them you’re looking for work experience.”
Sometimes it can be easy to assume that people who don’t directly work in your industry won’t have any way to help you find work or gain experience. And sure, while it is often easier to speak to someone who is directly in your industry, don’t disregard those who don’t.
“One time, I was catching a taxi to the airport. My driver was telling me that he used to be a chef. He mentioned the he loved working in the industry, but was struggling to find work. He said that he was interested in recipe testing. Well, it just so happened that my sister was working in food science and recipe testing! I ended up referring him through to her, and she was able to find someone who he could speak with to get him experience in that area.”
Your network exists beyond those who you work and study with on a day-to-day basis. While they can be a great source for connections, inspiration, and opportunities, your network has the potential to include anyone you meet. From taxi drivers, to your local barista – don’t discount the people you regularly encounter outside of your industry, because you never know when a job offer could arise.
Read more: Staying Agile
Be passionate, committed, and openly enthusiastic
There’s really no benefit in playing it cool when you’re looking for an internship. Organisations get a huge number of applicants each year, and your enthusiasm and passion for the work may just be what sets you apart from the rest.
“When I was working in grad recruitment for an engineering company, I used to recruit a lot of interns. One day, we were approached by a student who was really passionate about sustainability. He presented a case for solar energy and offered to help develop the sustainability side of the business. Soon enough, the company ended up creating an entirely new department called Eco-nomics… an environmental side that makes money.”
And once you’ve landed the role, don’t let that enthusiasm and commitment drop. Even if you’re working and studying, sometimes all it takes is a few hours of extra work to show your value to your employer.
“If you’re doing a social media internship, why not do an audit of the organisation’s social media strategy? Look at what channels they’re using, what they’re posting, what competitors are doing. Use this information put forth ideas and suggestions.”
There’s no point limiting your potential by not putting in the effort. You never know – this extra work could earn you a stellar reference, new skills to add to your repertoire, or even an ongoing position with the company.
Your enthusiasm and passion for the work you want to do may prove to be the defining element of a successful application. These characteristics not only tell an employer that you’re willing to do the work and do it well, but also that you have a good attitude, and will likely fit in well with the company.
And even if you are already in an internship, maintain that positive outlook and use it to propel yourself forward in the workplace. Expanding your skill range and thinking beyond the scope of your roll by providing assistance and inspiration to those you are working with can help you form strong professional bonds, a positive industry reputation, and may just provide the career momentum you need to land your next role.
Be open to learning
Whether you’re looking for an internship or are currently completing one, it’s important to remember you’re there to learn. While you want to show off your skills and abilities in helping the company achieve its goals, don’t assume you’ll know how to do everything asked of you. Asking questions should be a key component of any internship, and may prove vital if you wish to succeed. Helena learnt this the hard way:
“Once, I spent three hours photocopying documents for a submission my boss was putting together. She had instructed me to photocopy in a specific way, but over the three hours, I got slightly distracted. When I’d finished, she told me I’d done it completely wrong. I was taken aback. How do you get photocopying wrong? My boss then told me that the documents needed to be photocopied in a specific way in order for her submission to actually be accepted. Ever since, I’ve never made assumptions! Always clarify and ask for extra information if you’re not sure.”
And if you do find yourself in a position where you’ve made a mistake – learn from it, and try not to let it get you down.
“If you make mistakes, make sure you learn from them. Don’t take things personally, see things as a learning opportunity.”
Read more: How to Succeed in Your Internship
Learning can mean a great many things in an internship: from developing new skills, breaking down assumptions, and building self-awareness, to making mistakes and moving forward productively. So don’t worry about looking ignorant if you need to ask questions – that’s what an internship is all about! If you don’t, then you close yourself off to a tonne of learning opportunities that could really help later on in your career.
Helena’s final tips
Helena kindly offered up a few final tips for those either looking for, or are currently completing, an internship:
- “Talk to as many people as you can, and the opportunities will flourish. Things don’t just come to you. You have to seek them out.”
- “Don’t just go to an internship and expect them to tell you what to do. You need to show the organisation what you can offer and be proactive. Ask questions!”
- “Don’t ever disregard who you’re talking to or who’s in your everyday circle. You just never know who they know. More often than not, people want to help. Don’t ask directly for an internship, ask for a connection or a contact.”
Featured image courtesy of Pexels.